Pentagon civilians facing fewer furlough days
by Staff and wire reports
Mar 29, 2013 | 6152 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Workers leave the Anniston Army Depot in Bynum at the end of their shift. (File photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Workers leave the Anniston Army Depot in Bynum at the end of their shift. (File photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — As many as 700,000 civilian employees at the Defense Department will be furloughed for as long as 14 work days beginning in June, eight fewer days than originally anticipated after Congress gave military officials greater flexibility to apportion automatic budget cuts driving the layoffs.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described the reduction from 22 days to two weeks as "good news" during a Pentagon news conference Thursday.

However, Shrene Funderburg, president of AFGE Local 1945, the local union that represents workers at the Anniston Army Depot, said the Defense Department should do more.

"We feel like this is not enough ... there shouldn't be any furloughs at all," Funderburg said. "This still puts a real big halt in our mission at the depot."

The depot employs 5,400 workers and repairs and refurbishes military combat vehicles.

Clester Burdell, spokeswoman for the depot, said Col. Brent Bolander, depot commander, could not yet comment on how the furlough changes might impact workers at the facility.

"He can't respond until he receives an official response from senior leadership," Burdell said.

Funderburg said she and the union will continue its lobbying efforts with Congress to save depot workers from any furloughs.

"We will continue to go to Capitol Hill and do some more write-ups ... I write up daily and talk to them daily," Funderburg said, referring to U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and Rep. Mike Rogers.

Furlough notices will be sent out in early May, and the furloughs will begin in June and last through September. Employees will be furloughed for one day in each of the last 14 weeks of the 2013 budget year.

The thorny issue of who will be exempt from the furloughs remains unresolved. Pentagon officials have estimated that at least 10 percent of the department's roughly 800,000 civilian workers will not face furloughs, but they have declined to identify them.

The Pentagon previously has said it will not furlough civilians in the war zone and in critical public safety jobs, or people whose jobs are not paid for through congressional funding. Also exempt are as many as 50,000 foreign nationals who work for the department but are covered by international agreements.

The automatic cuts took effect March 1, triggered by Congress' failure to trim the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade. The Pentagon initially faced a $46 billion budget reduction through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, but Hagel said a new spending bill signed by Obama this week lowered the reduction by roughly $5 billion. That allows the military to start military construction projects and other programs that otherwise would have been delayed.

The furloughs are expected to save about $2.5 billion, Hagel said.

Before the bill was signed, civilians would have been required to take one day a week off without pay for 22 weeks — a 20 percent pay cut for more than five months. The spending bill gave officials the leeway to lessen the salary cuts and spread money around to other key priorities, including training, maintenance and possible ship deployments.

As an example, the Navy had delayed refueling overhauls of two aircraft carriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Abraham Lincoln — critical maintenance work that officials said would be a priority if additional funding became available.

Staff Writer Patrick McCreless added information to this report by Richard Lardner of The Associated Press.

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